Back in the day—as late as the 90's—Chattanooga had little in the way of high quality, locally-sourced, sustainable agriculture or any sort of passionate community behind these food-conscious principles. Sure, early on, there was a farmers market in the expansive parking lots off of 11th Street, where you could drive along tarmac rows looking at the set up of farmers offering their harvest. But, as someone who has since had various stints on two Chattanooga-area farms as a CSA worker, I always wondered if these farmers actually grew everything they offered. Was the produce seasonal? Was it from one farm? And, in those days, questioning the vendor about chemical fertilizers and insecticide usage did not factor into the conversation at all. In the end, I don't know how this market met its demise. But it did.
Today, things are different.
Chattanoogans (and of course, citizens from many other locales) are more and more in the know about what makes food real, true, and nutrient-based. As sustainable food consciousness began to rise in the Chattanooga area back in the late 1990's and early 2000's, the Main Street Farmers Market was born. And the conversation about where one's food comes from began.
At first, it was a small-scale operation, where a few pioneering farmers and a handful of local buyers would gather on Wednesday afternoons in the small gravel parking lot of the local Niedlov's Bakery . Now occupying its third location on East Main Street, in a large gravel parking lot across from the OCI furniture store and next to the Velo Coffee Roasters retail space, the market offers a growing supply of farmers meeting demand and providing a year-round service to the food savvy shoppers of the Scenic City. There is a beauty when farmers and "eaters" grow together from the literal and figurative grassroots up. The beauty is in the relationship that connects people not only to their food, but also to the people who are producing that food.
Shopping at the Wednesday farmers market on Main Street is a social event. Taking note of the offerings from the weekly MSFM newsletter as to who will sell and what will be sold, leads shoppers to many booths, repeatedly forging a tighter bond, asking questions about how something is grown, how to cook with it, will there be a certain crop planted, how's the weather affecting the farm—relationship building from the food to the farmer, to the sense of self established within such a close-knit community.
What sets MSFM apart from other markets in the Scenic City area, besides it being the oldest viable one, is the screening process the board uses to keep the supply "clean." Farmers are welcomed into the MSFM fold, only if they are using sustainable standards set into the by-laws. And even though the word 'organic' is actually a word that's never used by the market—apparently, "organic" is a term owned by the food powers at be, the USDA, and not available to farmers who don't meet the often expensive certifications—what's encouraging for Chattanoogans is the fact that the MSFM might very well have higher requirements than the USDA itself. And this is why the Main Street Farmers Market is such an invaluable resource for the Chattanooga community. It's one of the few places where food-conscious shoppers in the area can get an irrefutably clean source of food directly from the producer.
As aforementioned, having done a stint on two local farms as a CSA worker—Sequatchie Cove Farms and Williams Island—I've had the opportunity to learn some of the ins and outs of the producer-to-consumer process. And when you've participated in the process of crop success and crop failure, you learn to highly appreciate the dedicated work and care—the daily toil in the soil—that your local farmer endures to bring food to market. Rain or shine, all year long, these farmers bring their crops to the MSFM every Wednesday from 4-5:00 pm in the winter and 4-6:00 in the summer. It's this type of consistency and established trust that makes MSFM such a wonderful addition to the Chattanooga community.
And of course, an added boon is that there's no sales tax when you buy directly from the farmer!